Sky at a Glance 2021 March 6 – 13

Photo showing location of the constellations Columba the Dove to the south of Sirius and Canis Major, and Vela Pyxis, the (Mariner's) Compass to the left.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2021 March 6 – 13 ~by Curt Nason

This week we will take the path less travelled to pick out a few of the more obscure constellations in our sky. If you don’t have a clear view to the south or if you are cursed by light pollution in that direction, they will be obscure to the point of invisibility. Around 9 pm, cast your eyes toward Sirius in Canis Major, the Big Dog. If you can’t see that star, the brightest in the sky, then go inside and read a book.

Hugging the horizon below Sirius you might detect a Y-shaped group of stars that forms Columba the Dove. This is one of the later constellations, created a century after Christopher Columbus made his first voyage, and it was meant to depict a dove sent by another famous sailor called Noah. It could also be the dove released by yet another famous sailor, Jason of the Argonauts fame, to gauge the speed of the Clashing Rocks of the Symplegades. The dove lost some tail feathers and the Argo lost a bit of its stern.

There is a good case to be made for this interpretation. To the left of Columba, rising past the rear end of Canis Major, is the upper part of Puppis the Stern. It was once part of a much larger constellation called Argo Navis, Jason’s ship, which has been disassembled to form Puppis, Vela the Sails and Carina the Keel. To the left of Puppis is a vertical line of three stars forming Pyxis, the (Mariner’s) Compass, and some say it once formed the mast of Argo Navis. At its highest it does point roughly north-south.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:48 am and sunset will occur at 6:12 pm, giving 11 hours, 24 minutes of daylight (6:52 am and 6:18 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday, the last day under standard time, the Sun will rise at 6:35 am and set at 6:22 pm, giving 11 hours, 47 minutes of daylight (6:40 am and 6:27 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on March 5 and New Moon occurs next Saturday, March 13. Jupiter is ten degrees lower left of Saturn, while over the week Mercury moves from about one degree to nearly eight degrees lower left of Jupiter. The crescent Moon is seven degrees to the right of Saturn on Tuesday morning and slides to the right of Jupiter and Mercury on Wednesday. Mercury is at its greatest elongation from the Sun this Saturday. Mars remains within a scenic binocular view of the Pleaides most of the week, passing between it and the V-shaped Hyades cluster while matching colour and brightness with Aldebaran at the far end of the V. Neptune is in solar conjunction on Wednesday, and next Saturday is the 240th anniversary of William Herschel’s discovery of Uranus. Over the week we have the opportunity to view the subtle wedge of zodiacal light in the west about an hour after sunset.

With astronomy meetings and outreach activities on hold, you can watch the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show at 8 pm and view archived shows.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

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